Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Intelligence Quotient Tests and Autism

The headline of a recent Scientific American article grabbed my attention. When I read the words The Hidden Potential of Autistic Kids I thought 'Yes! The professionals are finally on the right track!' In short the article discusses how the tests overestimate disability in people with Autism Spectrum Disorder while they fail to acknowledge abilities that people with autism commonly posses (tasks that involve pattern recognition, logical reasoning and picking out irregularities in data or arguments).

Many of us parents have known for years that the tests psychologists use to assess people on the spectrum are flawed. I know my own son could not answer questions unless they were phrased in a specific way. I remember sitting in with my son when he was being tested at age four and a half. I tried to rephrase a question for him in a way I knew he could answer and was immediately informed by the psychologist I could not intervene.

The author also notes that the current belief that the majority of individuals with autism are cognitively impaired is wrong. The statistic of 70 to 80 percent of the autistic population being cognitively impaired appalled me, as a parent, because I thought that number was too high because many of the children I had met in my autism community were quite bright. I figured it was probably because the tests were not designed well enough to assess individuals with autism. I am grateful that a researcher agreed. Here is an excerpt from the article.

"Researchers have long considered the majority of those affected by autism to be mentally retarded. Although the numbers cited vary, they generally fall between 70 to 80 percent of the affected population. But when Meredyth Edelson, A researcher at Willamette University, went looking for the source of those statistics, she was surprised that you could not find anything conclusive. Many of the conclusions were based on intelligence tests that tend to overestimate disability in autistic people. Our knowledge is based on pretty bad data," she says.

The one flaw of this article is that readers that are part of the autism community might be offended because the author used the R-word (retardation) instead of writing "cognitively impaired" and did not use people first language ("autistic" instead of "person with autism.") Putting the political incorrectness aside, I am grateful that the author emphasizes that testing should put a higher value on the abilities and that certain factors (such as verbal processing) should be considered when an individual with autism is tested.